Matthew Morgan, chairman of the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OIGA), believes gaming tribes will support efforts to legalize sports betting but it remains questionable if the current governor would even sign a bill.
“We don’t know,” Morgan said Wednesday (March 30) of Republican Governor Kevin Stitt’s position on legalizing sports betting.
“He has come out a couple of times really unprompted either joining a local sports talk radio show or just off the cuff conversations and talks about how he is supportive of sports betting,” he said.
“Beyond what that means, we don’t know to be honest with you,” Morgan said during a half-hour online seminar sponsored by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA).
Morgan admitted that the relationship between Oklahoma tribes and Stitt has not improved since a protracted legal battle ended in 2020 over the renewability of their model gaming compact with the state.
A U.S. District Court judge in Oklahoma City ruled in July 2020 that the compacts with the state automatically renewed for an additional 15-year term on January 1, 2020, ending Stitt’s efforts to renegotiate the deal and the exclusivity fees paid to the state.
“His idea of what those compacts were supposed to look like were diametrically opposed to what the reality is in Oklahoma,” Morgan said.
Morgan reminded attendees of Wednesday’s online seminar that Oklahoma is not California, Florida, or even New York, in terms of population or how sports betting would be rolled out.
“We have a state population of almost 4m people. We have 39 tribes, 35 of which participate in gaming, and we have over 130-plus gaming facilities within the state and we compete regionally with Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, New Mexico, and Colorado.”
“That all adds in to that conversation of what makes sense here might not make sense anywhere else,” he added. “We feel like we have time.”
Morgan said there have been a lot of conversations among OIGA members with different positions on legalizing sports betting. He said some tribes are content with only retail wagering, while other tribes want to talk about mobile wagering.
“We only move by unanimous consent. There was not unanimous consent among our group,” Morgan said.
Earlier in the 2022 session, a sports-betting bill was approved by two committees and placed on the House agenda but was not taken up by a March 24 deadline for the Oklahoma legislature to pass bills in their chamber of origin.
House Bill 3008, authored by Republican Representative Ken Luttrell, would have allowed in-person wagering under the existing model gaming compact. Mobile sports betting was not included in the proposal.
Luttrell proposed a 10 percent revenue-share on net sports wagering revenues.
Under the existing compacts, tribes pay the state exclusivity fees between 4 percent and 10 percent on gambling revenue in exchange for the exclusive rights to operate Class III gaming.
“So I would say that Representative Luttrell’s sports-betting bill is dead,” Morgan said. “I say that with a caveat that nothing in Oklahoma is truly dead until the sine die.”
The current legislative session in Oklahoma City is scheduled to end on May 27.
Morgan explained that leadership in both chambers of the legislature every year file what is known as shell bills, and they can insert language dealing with sports betting into these bills anytime during the session and get those moved.
“But the formal bill appears to be dead,” Morgan said.
Victor Rocha, conference chairman with NIGA who moderated Wednesday’s discussion, expressed his frustration with the governor’s aggressive stance towards gaming tribes.
“[It] doesn’t make any sense,” Rocha said. “This man wants to put politics before prosperity. All of us in the industry are gobsmacked by his aggressive attitude towards his partners, the local tribes.”
Morgan said their issue is with the governor, who is up for re-election this year, and they continue to have great relationships with the legislature, local communities, and other officials.
“If and when the governor is ready to have that conversation,” Morgan said, “I think tribal leaders will be at the table, but it has to be serious conversations and it has to be respectful conversation.”
“If the governor is not there, I don’t know when or if the relationship ties will ever be repaired.”
Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation, was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
When asked by VIXIO GamblingCompliance at the National Governors Association winter meeting in late January why he was so unpopular among tribes in Oklahoma, Stitt said he was “not going to be unfair to one race over another race.”
“We have to have one set of rules regardless of what race you are, and it’s preposterous to think about one race not paying taxes while another race is paying taxes or another race having different criminal punishments versus other races,” Stitt said.